The trick to effective mind mapping is finding the right tool for the job — whether that tool is pen and paper, as Guy Lewis used to unravel his personal life, or dedicated software, as Patrick Lynch used to explain Wild Apricot’s features to his colleagues.
What is Mind Mapping?
Mind mapping is a non-linear, highly visual method of capturing and organizing ideas. Fans of mind mapping claim that it helps them to be more creative, more productive, and more organized in their thinking and learning.
Here's how it works:
Working alone or in collaboration with others, start with a central
concept in the middle of your page. Branch out from there, adding ideas
as they occur and linking them with lines and arrows as the
relationships emerge. Add colors, notes, links, images or any other
enhancements that will help you to organize and understand the
Use the mind mapping technique for taking notes, brainstorming,
whiteboarding at meetings, planning your writing, organizing
information and managing projects, to create flowcharts, as a visual
learning tool, or to explore complex ideas and present those ideas to
A pen and paper will often meet your needs quite nicely, but if you
plan to present your mind map later, or if several people are mind
mapping as a team, software can make the task easier. And there is
certainly no shortage of choice in the mind mapping software that’s
available. In fact, the sheer variety of low-cost or free mind map
tools, each with its own strengths and limitations, can make it
challenging to select the right tool for your purposes!
I’ve been testing a host of mind mapping tools recently, and while I'm not sure it has made me more creative or more organized, necessarily, it has been an interesting exploration! Each of
these tools performed well according to what they were designed to do, and you should be able to find reliable software here to suit your own mind mapping
Free and Low Cost Web-based Software
Gliffy is lets
you create charts and diagrams online, using a library of pre-drawn
symbols, and save them as images to embed in documents and web pages.
Both the free Basic
and premium ($5/month)versions allow users to collaborate in near real
time, and Gliffy automatically keeps a copy every time a document is
saved, so you can track changes or revert to an earlier version.
is web-based mind mapping software that allows an unlimited number of
users to collaborate in real time. Import your mind maps from Freemind
and MindManager, publish mind maps to your website or blog, or export
them as images, PDF or RTF files. Full premium features ($4/month) are free for all account holders for the first 30 days.
version is very comparable to that of MindMeister, with the addition of
a useful option to keep your mind map private or share it with selected
colleagues. The premium version ($6/month) includes a spellcheck
utility, folders, full-screen view, and the ability to export mind maps
in MindManager, Microsoft Project and Microsoft Excel formats.
Bubbl.us is a
simple, Flash-based brainstorming tool that produces mind maps you can
embed in a web page. I found it most useful in making a quick diagram
to show hierarchical relationships in a graphical format — as in an
organizational chart or a family tree.
Three other web-based mind mapping applications you might want to try are the surprisingly powerful WiseMapping, the new Mind42 (just out of beta testing, which currently places no limitations on numbers of users or saved mind maps) and Thinkature, which combines collaborative mind mapping with voice chat.
Free Desktop Software
Open source FreeMind is still the reigning standard for desktop mind mapping tools. Java based, it will run on any platform, as will i2Brain. Other popular choices in the free desktop field include Cayra (for Windows XP or Vista) and the lightweight outliner, MyMind (for Mac OS X).
More Mind Mapping Resources
Mind-Mapping.org offers an impressive “master list of software that supports knowledge management and information organisation in graphical form,” with useful articles on using mind maps and a topic-specific search engine to help you find the right mind mapping software to suit your needs.
Do you have a favourite mind mapping tool?
Or maybe you’ve never been able to see the point of mind maps at all…
Whatever your take on the mind mapping technique — please share your thoughts (and your mind maps?) in the comments section below.